Foundations of Integrative Health

Foundations of Integrative Healing Manual
Foundations of Integrative Healing Manual

2: The Principle of Balance


The science is clear; staying hydrated is one of the most crucial aspects of health. It helps lubricate your joints, regulate your body temperature, and eliminate water from your system.

But drinking water can also kill you. 

Jennifer Strange, 28, a resident of Rancho Cordova, California, was found dead in her home hours after taking part in a water-drinking contest, the prize for which was a new Nintendo Wii. The investigation by the coroner declared it death by “water intoxication”. Water intoxication, or hyperhydration, is a fatal disturbance when excessive water intake pushes the body outside its normal balance of electrolytes. 

Fluoroquinolone is a highly toxic substance, which, if consumed past a level of 100 ppm, will introduce a variety of harmful symptoms in your body, including overgrowth of viral infections in your blood and organs. Patients have reported severe and progressing symptoms from Fluoroquinolone, including severe chronic joint and tendon inflammation. However, if consumed in smaller doses, Fluoroquinolone also has a property where it activates your immune system. Fluoroquinolone is one of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics in the world. 

Antibiotics were discovered accidentally by Alexander Fleming in 1928 when he left a bacterial culture open returning from a holiday. Before antibiotics, 90% of children with bacterial meningitis died, and those who lived had severe and lasting disabilities, from deafness to mental retardation. Strep throat was also often fatal disease, and ear infections sometimes spread from the ear to the brain, causing severe problems. Few inventions in human history have saved more lives and mitigated more suffering than antibiotics. 

This isn’t to suggest you avoid water and pump yourself with antibiotics. Quite the opposite. This highlights the deepest nature of the principle of balance: that in health, nothing is absolute; that something is healthy only to the extent that it brings your cells into balance. Yes, lots of activity is beneficial, assuming you also rest. 


The principle of balance teaches us to see every decision, from major life decisions to minute details, in the context of balance. 


When we filter our decisions through the lens of balance, confusing health issues begin to make sense. Is coffee healthy? It depends; will it bring you balance. Should I work out or rest? It depends; will it bring you balance.

Balance is the underpinning of all health. Western medicine recognizes that the goal of health is to return all our cells to a state of homeostasis or balance. Yet, we don’t have good ways to think about balance, do we? It’s an almost entirely unexplored concept.

There’s a massive difference between balance, the word, and balance the phenomena. To have a single word for such a vast set of functions is misleading. Balance–the word– might make you think of a weighing scale. But the problem with a weighing scale is that it’s one-dimensional. You add weight or remove weight. For many, that’s the end of the story. Is this really all there is to say about something so essential to life?


The Three Gunas


The phenomenon of balance is nothing short of a miracle. Temperatures in the known universe range from -459 F to literally hundreds of billions of degrees. Within that vast range, your blood must exist within a 10-degree temperature range for you to be alive. However, it’s not only your blood temperature. Your blood’s pH level, oxygenation levels, 62 different hormone levels, all existing simultaneously in an equally delicate balance. Balance is the closest thing we know to being a miracle. Its existence is a phenomenon that surpasses the capacity of the human intellect to understand. 

How do we integrate something so complex and crucial to our existence? Ayurveda is the oldest system of continuously practiced medicine on earth. There’s a concept from Ancient Ayurvedic Philosophy that helps us understand the nature of balance on the deepest, quantum level. It’s called Three Gunas of Nature, one of the cornerstones of Ayurvedic healing philosophy. 

It’s a very simple concept, with huge implications to our life. This simple concept gives us better insight into HOW we can become imbalanced, as there are different types of imbalance. Some days, our intuition will guide us towards activity, and other days our intuition will guide us towards rest. This simple observation is more important than you may realize. The Philosophy of the Three Gunas states that every substance (including food, chemicals, and even types of movement) interacts with our body in one of three ways: Rajas, Tamas and Sattva. 



Rajas is the quality of activity, things that energize you or make you feel active, overactive, or agitated. Think caffeine, white sugar, and spicy food. Think fire, movement, expression.


  • Gives us the capacity to act, motivate, organize, and implement. We experience it as movement, action, anger, and sometimes anxiety. Rajas represents all that is in motion: Dynamic, metabolic, hot, restless. It is the mind at its most active, engaged state and can sometimes lead to disturbance. 

Rajasic states of mind bring about…

  • A tendency to burn out through excessive use of that energy
  • Trying too hard or too much, expecting too much and overextending ourselves.
  • Impatience and inconsistency.

Imagine someone living in a large city, working long, stressful, active days. They’re in the gym pumping CrossFit classes when they aren’t at work. They listen to loud, electronic music to keep themselves pumped up. They drink coffee to support their energy demands. This is a lifestyle that is excessively Rajastic and out of balance.



On the other end of the spectrum, there is Tamas. Tamas is experienced as dullness, stuck, lacking movement, stubbornness, fear, depression, decay, and lack of awareness. Think slow, heavy, dead, or dying. Tamas represents all that is: Inert, still, dull, unconscious, sluggish, and ignorant. It is the mind in its most heavy, unaware, dark, limited, apathetic state.

Tamasic states of mind are responsible for…

  • Suppressed emotions and feelings.
  • Stagnant energy and patterns of negativity and self-destruction.
  • Refusal to seek proper treatment, help, or support.
  • Poor hygiene and diet.
  • Accepting ill-health or disease as fate and unwillingness to seek opportunities to create better life/health.

Excess tamas imbalances is typified archetypally by the couch potato. The individual has numbed themselves with too much junk food (processed food is considered tamasic), not enough movement, and non-existent mental-emotional housekeeping. The simplest way to describe tamasic imbalances is: tired and stuck.



Sattva is the state of divine balance; the right combination of Rajas and Tamas. In Ayurvedic and Yogic philosophy, everything we do in life is to find a sattvic state. When we are in a sattvic state, healing happens naturally, and we develop a joyful disposition towards life. 

Sattva gives us the capacity to create, think, and imagine in the purest and most authentic sense. It is experienced as curiosity, fascination, inspiration, satisfaction, contentment, and peace. Sattva represents all that is beautiful: Illuminating, intelligent, creative, compassionate, and pure. It is the mind at its most expansive, open, perceptive, and clear state. Saatva is where all your body systems suddenly find their harmony. 

Sattvic states of mind allow us to…

  • Have the greatest “slow-burning” energy and immunity. 
  • Have a harmonious and adaptable nature.
  • Balanced emotions and peace of mind
  • Naturally considerate and compassionate towards others. 

If you think back to the most expansive times in your life, it’s probably in times when you had a good balance between positive, healthy stimulation and ample rest. 

Maybe a vacation or retreat where you were moving at your leisure, exploring a new culture, spending time in nature, and resting when you felt like it. This is sattva. Sattva feels like balanced, sustained energy inside. It’s when you have bright, gentle eyes and inner radiance. When in a sattvic state, the body feels light, energized, and natural. In sattva, our bodies can heal, and our inner world becomes more and more peaceful and meditative. 

The entire aim of eastern medicine is to promote sattva in the mind and body by coordinating a balance between rajas (too much activity) and tamas (not enough activity). When we are in a sattvic, or balanced state, health is inevitable. Additionally, in Ayurvedic Philosophy, they say all virtuous action and spiritual insight come when you are in a state of Saatva.

Each of these states has a part to play in the life cycle of everything. The Three Gunas are weaving together to create new combinations of life constantly, so all are present to some extent in all living things. To achieve true health, we must learn to embrace and utilize the Three Gunas as each plays an essential function in life. These Three Gunas are constantly in a divine play. If we had only one state, the lack of contrast would dull our senses and make life much less rich. 

There are many ways to achieve and maintain this beautiful balance of the gunas. At the simplest level, we can increase sattva by balancing our energy expenditure and adding sattvic foods into our diet. But that’s just the very tip of the iceberg…

The principle of the Three Gunas applies to everything we experience through our five senses. Everything we perceive with the five senses will have an effect that either moves the body/mind in the direction of activity & a stimulated or energized feeling (rajas), dullness & a heavy or stuck feeling (tamas) or a balanced & clear feeling (sattva).



To feel this for yourself, consider the following examples: 

Read each of the examples below, and close your eyes. Try to determine whether this will make you feel more active inside (rajas), less active and heavy (tamas), or balanced (sattva):

Touch: Someone tickling you

Sight: Looking at a beautiful flowing river

Sounds: Silence 

Taste: Eating a giant plate of pasta

Smell: Smelling a freshly squeezed lemon


Most people would say: 

Touch: Tickling (Rajasic)

Sight: Beautiful flowing river (Saatvik)

Sounds: Silence (Tamasik, inducing rest or stillness)

Taste: Giant plate of pasta (Tamasik)

Smell: Freshly squeezed lemon (Saatvik/Rajasic)


These few examples give you an idea of the range of ways that the gunas influence your mind and body at all times. Every moment of every day is a dance with the qualities of the gunas in the things that you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. 

Keep in mind that everything you interact with is on Rajas/Tamas/Sattva spectrum. Some things like citrus fruits can be only slightly Rajasic, and other things like caffeine are highly Rajasic. It’s a fun exercise to start mapping out what you experience with foods, sounds, smells, and sights on a map for yourself in your journal.



The wisdom of the Three Gunas is in its simplicity. It gives us an accessible framework for re-attuning to balance throughout our day. It gives you greater clarity on when you are out of balance and specifically in which direction. As you go through your day, check-in with yourself and what your senses have been exposed to. For example, if you know you have a lot to do that day, and you’ll need to be active, wake up and energize with some rajas:

  • Make your morning workout a bit more active and dynamic.
  • Play upbeat music. 
  • Use bright-smelling essential oils like lemon or citrus that are bright and stimulating.
  • Eat lighter foods that won’t leave you feeling dull or heavy.

And if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed (i.e. too activated), do the opposite. Do a slow, gentle yoga practice, listen to calming music, and utilize essential oils with earthier, grounding tones. If you had a day of heavy stimulation the day before, plan some extra rest for yourself. If you’ve been feeling uninspired lately, plan an active day doing something you’ve never done before. There are really countless ways to utilize this simple concept.


Journaling Exercise:

  • What pulls you out of balance in your day? 
  • In which direction do you tend to get out of Balance (Rajas or Tamas?)
  • How could you use the principle of the three gunas to get yourself back into balance?